Greetings as Dan Ulrich said, I am Beth Jarrett and I am currently serving as the Pastor of First Church of the Brethren in Harrisonburg Virginia. Dan said I had 5 minutes to share my faith background and my perspective on this passage so I think the most efficient thing to say is that I am a southern Presbaptiscopalmennothren. Let’s just say I have a very broad faith experience but I found my spiritual home in the Anabaptist tradition as a young adult.
When I pondered this letter to the church in Philippi, it immediately touched my church planting/missionary heart. Having served as a church planter in Sicily for 10 years, I am keenly aware of some of the anxiety that Paul is grappling with.
I remember what it is like to have invested years into building a small community of believers only to come back from our furlough to find them divided, angry and the center of the town’s gossip vine. And Paul wasn’t even on a furlough!
Believe me, when two Sicilian women fight it involves everyone! It can divide a church right down the middle. Each woman aligning their entire household against another… and believe me that’s a BIG household. If they see each other walking down the street, they will literally change their path to avoid having to see one another.
Paul is speaking to a very similar issue in this letter as two strong women, Euodeia and Syntyche are fighting and causing a division in the little church that is struggling to survive without adequate leadership, in the midst of cultural and ethnic diversity, persecution, and surrounding pagan traditions.
If we are honest with each other, we face similar struggles in our churches today as some of us experience great diversity in our theological perspectives and worship styles while at the same time we see decreased attendance, lower giving, and I am sure you can name a few others. And yet we are still faced with the challenge to shine like stars as we extend the good news of the Gospel in the midst of massive technological, social and economic change.
Paul desperately wants the church to understand that how we work out our salvation together matters.
I recently had the benefit of hearing Juana Bordas a vibrant Latino leader and author of salsa soul and leadership share how she successfully transitioned the Girls Scouts of America from a dying all white organization to a vibrant flourishing multi-cultural and ethnically diverse organization. She believes that the viability of the church and church related agencies over the next 50 years depends on how well we do the work of becoming culturally and ethnically diverse without damaging one another or the church’s witness. If ever there was a time to accept Paul’s challenge to do everything without complaining and arguing… this is the time. We need all of our creative energy focused on this business of working out our salvation in our own generation.
How do we do that in practice? According to Philippians 2: 13, we must trust that God’s Spirit is at work in each of us to will and to act according to his good purpose. We need to take seriously what it means for us both individually and corporately to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. It is a call to courageous discipleship. We must figure out what it means to live out the deep claims of the Gospel in our lives with an attitude of humility and respect while at the same time navigating through an age of technological, environmental, and social change.
But with such diversity among us, how do we do that? Paul encourages us earlier in chapter 2, to let our experience of Christ’s mercy, love and compassion be the glue that holds us together. Not our like theologies, not our correct Biblical interpretation, not even our worship styles and practices. Instead, it should be our encounter with Jesus and all of the grace we have experienced in that encounter that holds us together and invites others to join us.